It looks like the debate over so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” will be reinvigorated by the death of Osama Bin Laden. Brian Williams of NBC News interviewed the Director of the CIA yesterday, and “Leon Panetta confirms that the intelligence needed to find Osama bin Laden was gained, in part, by interrogation techniques that included water-boarding.” Here’s a transcript of the relevant portion of the interview.
Brian Williams: I’d like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was as a result of waterboarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after bin Laden?
Leon Panetta: You know, Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information and that was true here. We had a multiple source — a multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well. So it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.
Brian Williams: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?
Leon Panetta: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were — you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.
Brian Williams: So final point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques, which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years, that includes waterboarding?
Leon Panetta: That’s correct.
As a political matter, this information is potentially explosive. It suggests that the Bush-era interrogation techniques worked. Some are already arguing that this vindicates the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding and other coercive tactics to extract intelligence from enemy combatants.
I would caution Christians against this kind of thinking. We do not make ethical judgments based on whether or not an action benefits this or that politician or party. Nor do we evaluate the morality of an action by whether or not it “works”â€”meaning that it achieves some highly desirable end. That would amount to a crass form of pragmatism that would lead to an end-justifies-the-means way of solving ethical problems. That would, of course, lead to moral anarchy.
I agree with Albert Mohler, Richard John Neuhaus, and others that torture is wrong. There are, however, times when this general rule has exceptionsâ€”the so-called “ticking time-bomb” scenario. As Mohler writes:
“Moral cowards duck these questions even as the morally unserious dismiss them. This is not an option for Christians who would think seriously about this urgent question. I would argue that we cannot condone torture by codifying a list of exceptional situations in which techniques of torture might be legitimately used. At the same time, I would also argue that we cannot deny that there could exist circumstances in which such uses of torture might be made necessary” (Culture Shift, p. 59)
For an informed discussion of these issues, I recommend the following:
- Albert Mohler, Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Multnomah, 2008). [Chapter 8]
UPDATE: Representative Peter King also confirms that the initial information about the courier came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after interrogation that included waterboarding. See below.